Searching for Embarrassment
But soon after Facebook launched the tool, the Internet had a field day with less innocuous and more embarrassing queries, showing just how much information people reveal about themselves on the site, intentionally or not. Care to find out which brand of condoms your friends prefer? Graph Search might tell you.
A blog called actualfacebookgraphsearches.tumblr.com posted a collection of searches ranging from "married people who like prostitutes" to "current employers of people who like racism." Both yielded more than 100 people.
While it is possible that some of those Facebook users are fully aware that what they've shared is easily searchable, it is likely that some are not. It's easy to click "like" on a page and forget about it, and it's even easier to assume that no one will search through your photos from party days at the Burning Man festival five years ago.
To avoid any unpleasantness, Facebook plans to notify users that it's "getting easier for people to find photos and other things you've shared with them" along with a reminder that they can check "who can see my stuff" under their privacy settings.
"The goal is to avoid bad surprises," said Nicky Jackson Colaco, privacy and safety manager at Facebook. But she stressed Facebook's view that the search tool "indexes information differently than we have ever been able to do before, in a really positive way."
(Read More: Facebook Changes Ad Strategy to Woo Madison Avenue)
It's easier, for example, to find a long-lost classmate with a common name, or to find common interests with friends of friends.
Facebook does not currently show users ads based on what they are searching for, but the company may do in the future. As Google has shown, it's a lucrative business. Research firm eMarketer estimates that Google will take nearly 42 percent of all U.S. digital ad spending this year, well above Facebook's share of less than 7 percent.
With its new search tool, Facebook is clearly trying to divert traffic and ad spending from its rival. Whether this will work will become more clear as more people begin using it.